Chris Minko and his daughter Anya have carved out prominent lives in Thailand and Cambodia through music, sport, and education that came with the backing of Australian World War II hero Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop and Thai philanthropist Mechai Viravaidya.
Chris was raised in the small town of Myrtleford in the alpine valleys of southeastern Australia and initially found fame as a musician with jazz band Bachelors from Prague in the mid-1980s before moving into event management.
He courted controversy with Melbourne’s Moomba Festival when he defied orders and put an Aboriginal float at the head of an annual parade but also found favor with the trade unions and the Australian Football League (AFL), where he organized half-time entertainment at the Grand Final.
It was at that point that he realized “the power of sport to effect positive change.”
Then, in 1993, Dunlop, shortly before he died, backed him on a project which initiated cultural exchange programs between Thailand and Australia that became a stepping stone into Cambodia three years later.
Cambodia was still at war, but it was also emerging from its status as a failed state and Chris began work with disability sports and used his ability to organize events in developing Cambodia’s first international sports teams and took his volleyball side on world tours.
He would later return to his music, establishing the Cambodian band Krom, which fused Western blues with traditional Khmer music, while raising Anya, a New Colombo Plan scholar, educator, who is the current project manager at Socio-Economic Vision Alliance, working on the Partnership Schools Project.
The project, which stemmed from the innovative Mechai Bamboo School, supported by the Mechai Viravaidya Foundation, has established programs across Thailand, and its influence has now made its way to Cambodia.
Chris and Anya Minko spoke with The Diplomat’s Luke Hunt.